Master Plan was the 80s duo made up of Tom O’Callaghan and Pepper Gomez. Tom was a multi-instrumentalist who could virtually play anything he touched and had been a violin player in the Chicago Civic Orchestra which was the training orchestra for the Chicago Symphony. Pepper Gomez was a sitar player, poet, singer and songwriter who joined forces with Tom after watching his various bands struggle with problems ranging from interpersonal issues to drugs to self-sabotage when opportunity knocked.
Though Tom did not come from a musical family, Pepper did with her father playing guitar and piano, her mom cello and her brother, Bruce Gomez, an incredible guitarist and multi-instrumentalist. Bruce actually gave Pepper her first paying vocal studio musician gig singing background vocals for projects at Jerry Soto’s studio in Evanston. As Pepper could speak Spanish, this came in handy for some of the sessions for musicians who were working on Spanish-speaking tracks.
After Tom had a particularly dismal gig in front of a major label, Pepper said, “There has to be a better way.” She felt that if they created a plan, that they might actually be able to make a go of the music field and find success. So, with Pepper on vox and songwriting of melodies with her lyrics and Tom providing the rest of the instruments and drum programming, the band was named Master Plan as based on Pepper’s plan. The first step in the plan was to create a demo that could be shopped to the labels. They pooled together their money to buy a little 4 track recording machine, affectionately called, “Studio Basico”. The first song Master Plan recording was a remake of the Seeds “Pushin’ Too Hard.”. Pepper loved that song and believed in the saying, “once a hit, always a hit.” The House approach to the tune came naturally to both Tom and Pepper as based on the sounds coming out of Chicago. Pepper, a dancer, loved the House sound and Tom’s instrumentation personalized it for a sound that was Chicago and House but also all their own.
While continuing to record the demo, they entered the 4 track into the Columbia College AEMMP student-run label record contest. Winners were to record their tune in a real studio and a record would be pressed and marketed. Pepper likes to say that she “never wins anything” but in this case, Master Plan’s “Pushin’ Too Hard” won the AEMMP contest.
Working in the studio with engineer Tommy Hanson, Master Plan completed the remake of “Pushin” Too Hard”. It fast became an underground hit particularly on the college radio stations. Pepper felt this was the perfect launching point to parlay into a label signing Master Plan. So, with “Pushin’ Too Hard” as the lead tune, Tom and Pepper completed their Master Plan Demo which consisted of 6 songs in total:
- “Pushin’ Too Hard” (Saxon)
- “Andrew” (O’Callaghan/Gomez)
- “Making Movies” (O’Callaghan/Gomez)
- “Daydream” (Gomez/O’Callaghan)
- “Fanning The Flames” (O’Callaghan/Gomez)
- “Electric Baile” (O’Callaghan/Gomez)
With the continued success of “Pushin’ Too Hard”, Tom set off to the New Music Seminar, a music industry conference at the time which brought many labels to NYC so that artists could showcase their music. Through this process, Tom became connected with Matt Warren at Sunset.
Matt received the promo kit which was handmade by Pepper. One of Pepper’s friends, Kate Guerra, created a logo which was pasted onto the blue duo pocket folder. One side of the folder held the press and college radio chartings. The other side held the photos. The demo tape itself was held in place by Velcro! Though simple, it was striking and effective with the photos giving Master Plan the look that Pepper had styled – futuristic, Chicago, and artsy.
Matt Warren signed Master Plan to Sunset Records based upon the strength of the music he heard in the 4 track demo tape. He then set out to record his favorite and what would become yet another hit to chart Billboard, “Electric Baile”.
But, before we talk about “Electric Baile” – let’s look at the songs on the demo tape which were born out of the Chicago House atmosphere at the time while also capturing Pepper’s desire to create new music for the future and to not simply keep regurgitating the same old sounds.
“Andrew” was a song about a woman falling in love with a robot. Underlying themes were related to finding a “perfect” person to love which of course does not exist. The name Andrew was chosen because it sounded close to Android. Since those times, movies have been made about this concept but at the time, “Andrew” was invented by Pepper as a commentary on love and the perils of the future with increasing robotization of society. “Making Movies” similarly made a statement about the industry and the challenges as related to auditions, being judged and what we think we want. As Pepper loves to write songs about either dancing or love, both the hooky and catchy number, “Daydream” as well as “Fanning the Flames” filled her poetic need to talk about love. Wrapping up the demo tape was “Electric Baile” which showcased Pepper’s cultural Hispanic roots and was one of the first songs in the genre to mix English with Spanish.
“Electric Baile” was recorded again with Tommy Hanson at Chicago Recording Company. No longer a virgin in the studio, Pepper sang to Tommy’s liking and directives to “sing it sexy, Pepper.” Though she had no idea what that meant, Tommy went on to produce her vocals and help her achieve a breathy vocal style that became her signature. The breath control it entailed often left Pepper in states of a hyperventilated head rush. But, the sound caught the attention of the listeners especially as framed by the amazing synth work of Tom O’Callaghan and the percussion of Jo Jo Beat (Joe Pusateri). The week in 1986 “Electric Baile” broke out on Billboard was unforgettable for all but especially for Matt Warren and Sunset Records without whom the song would have never achieved such status.
Matt Warren went on to record with Master Plan again on the song “Way To My Heart” which also charted on Billboard, peaking on February 14, 1987 at number 40 and staying on the Billboard charts for 5 weeks.